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Will this measure change occupancy rules for families?
No, families are protected by existing federal housing laws that prevent cities nationwide from discriminating against them. Throughout Boulder, families are always allowed to have an unlimited number of people living together, and that will remain the same when our ballot measure passes. Our petition only expands housing options for everyone. It will not—and cannot —change existing legal protections for families. Bedrooms Are For People wants more families to be able to remain in and move to Boulder!
What about safety?
We’re all about ensuring that our community members are safe! Allowing up to one person per bedroom in a home (plus one person per home) is a perfectly safe living arrangement according to the building codes adopted by the
City of Boulder,
U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, and
International Building Code. The International Building Code has been adopted for use as a standard by most cities across the United States.
Our ballot measure also includes the phrase, "provided that relevant health and safety codes are met," which means that all safety codes regulating how many people can safely live together (based on square footage and other building conditions) shall supersede any occupancy allowances.
How is a “bedroom” defined?
To be considered a legal bedroom, a room must meet all requirements defined in the City of Boulder’s
Title 10 - Structures, Chapter 5.5 - Residential Building Code, including (but not limited to) the following:
— Size: A bedroom must have at least 70 square feet of floor space, with a minimum of 7 feet in at least one direction. (In other words, a closet or a 5-foot-wide,enclosed porch will never qualify.) Furthermore, at least half of the ceiling must be at least 7 feet tall.
— Access: Each bedroom must have its own access to a hallway or communal space—not by passing through another bedroom.
— Exit Points: A bedroom must have two points of egress or “exit points”. For example, a bedroom must have both a door and a sufficiently large window for someone to escape in the event of an emergency.
— Heat: All bedrooms must have a heat source, whether that’s a heating unit, a radiator, or a vent from the furnace. An occupant must be able to keep the room to at least 68 degrees. A space heater does not qualify as an acceptable heat source.
— Intended Use: Garages, kitchens, bathrooms, hallways, closets, crawlspaces, and one living room per dwelling unit are not considered legal bedrooms.
I have an empty bedroom. Will I be forced to rent it out after this measure passes?
No, of course not! We respect everyone’s private property rights and personal freedom to choose who they live with. Our measure only allows you the option to rent out a bedroom if you choose to do so.
How does letting unrelated people live together help keep people housed?
All people in Boulder should get the benefits of sharing housing, including the costs of rent or mortgage, transportation, food, and child care.
Allowing multiple families to share housing is also something that Boulder’s Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) supports because: “When families lose their homes, the most common solution is to ‘double up’ with another family in a home… In Boulder’s high-cost housing environment, where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,100, the ability to double up with another family is critical to preventing local family homelessness.”
What safeguards are in place to limit change to existing houses?
On the issues of safeguards, our measure includes the phrase, "provided that relevant health and safety codes are met," which means that all residential codes regulating how many people can safely live together shall supersede any occupancy allowances. The safeguards we list here both protect health and safety, but also have the effect of making it difficult and costly for anyone to buy properties simply to add bedrooms.
The City of Boulder also has some of the most highly regulated, complicated, extensive, and expensive building permit processes in the nation, which further limit the number and rate of changes that can be made to any given residential property, including:
- One living room per dwelling unit
- Off-street parking requirements
- Building height limits
- Building setbacks
- Solar shading
- New homes must meet some of the strictest energy standards in the country
- Non-conforming properties will have significant additional expenses to obtain a building permit
All Boulder property owners must adhere to specific international and locally adopted building safety codes any time they want to make changes to a home. All relevant health and safety codes, including the International Building and Residential code limits adopted by the city, shall continue to apply to all homes in Boulder to protect the safety of all residents. Boulder’s existing building codes require that each bedroom in every home meets all safety requirements, including but not limited to the following:
- Must have 70 square feet of floor space;
- Must have a minimum of 7 feet in at least one direction;
- Must have its own access to a hallway or communal space;
- Must have two points of egress;
- Must have at least one window;
- Must have a source of heat;
- Must not be a living room, garage, kitchen, closet, hallway, or bathroom.
Furthermore, there is a finite number of people who would be willing to share a home with more than four other housemates in Boulder, so there is a reasonable cap on the market demand for homes with more than five bedrooms.
How many people are going to want to live with three or more unrelated housemates?
Many of the people who are interested in living with three or more unrelated housemates in Boulder are already doing so, either knowingly or unknowingly living in violation of Boulder’s home occupancy limits. Passing
Ballot Measure 300 would legalize the current living situations of thousands of Boulder residents, eliminating the black market for bedrooms by allowing people to safely and legally share a home with the number of people that home was built for.
There is also a finite number of people who are willing to share a home in Boulder with more than three other housemates, which creates a reasonable cap on the market demand for homes with more than four bedrooms. Furthermore, many people who live with multiple housemates only do so for a year or two while they save up money for a more costly living situation with fewer housemates.
Entire states, including California, Iowa, Michigan, New Jersey, and Washington, have prohibited home occupancy limits based on the residents' familial or relationship status.
Additional examples from many peer cities in the U.S. illustrate that higher occupancy limits do not lead to an increase in average household size, and shown in table below and the d
ata compiled by Denver Community Planning & Development in early 2021.
Click on the table below to view the full-size graphic.
Does expanding access to housing incentivize investors?
For more than 50 years, Boulder’s occupancy limits have not deterred investors from buying up homes, and there is no evidence to support claims that mandating empty bedrooms has kept Boulder “affordable” or has somehow disincentivized investors from buying homes in Boulder.
In fact, Boulder’s limited housing supply is one of the primary drivers for our city’s continuous housing cost increases over the past 60+ years. Overly restrictive zoning policies such as occupancy limits have contributed to the current housing crisis in which there are no affordable market-rate homes available in Boulder.
The current occupancy limits are one of many factors that make large, multi-family housing developments in Boulder so appealing to investors and property management companies. Investors highly value housing markets like Boulder’s that are tightly constrained, so one way to help reduce that financial appeal is to use our existing housing stock to increase our housing supply.
Institutional investors are not buying detached houses in Boulder because constrained supply has driven up prices more than rents, and therefore Boulder rental houses simply don’t provide good cash flow for the investment. Given the many difficulties to expanding houses (as described above) and the fact that many or most houses with more than three bedrooms are already rented assuming full occupancy, there is no reason to expect the current situation to change much after our measure passes.
While we cannot fully remedy the negative consequences of some past decisions,
Ballot Measure 300 allows Boulder voters to embrace more fair housing laws that give all people equal access to housing in Boulder.
Can City Council modify this measure after it is passed?
As noted in the City of Boulder Charter
Sec. 54. Repeal or amendment of initiated or referred measures, a two-thirds majority of Council would be able to amend the legislation “provided that the amendments do not alter or modify the basic intent.”
This raises the question of what is the “basic intent” of this measure. Our position is that the basic intent is to enact significantly more reasonable occupancy limits than the arbitrary fixed caps currently in place, so as to bring residents into legal status and better use the housing stock that already exists in Boulder. Within that basic intent, we would be open to considering future amendments and limits if any were found to be necessary.
It is important to note that Boulder Charter Sec. 54 does not in any way restrict City Council’s ability to pass legislation that may affect occupancy limits in other ways. Council has immense power to regulate other areas related to occupancy, in particular with building safety, parking management, enforcement of noise, trash and parking violations, and rental licensing regulations and inspections, all of which can be changed with a simple majority of City Council members.
I’ve seen a few people living in unsafe conditions—how will this help them?
People will be able to choose from more housing options with safe, legal bedrooms to live in while still saving money by sharing housing costs and living expenses with housemates. Tenants who were formerly unable to be on the lease will also gain legal standing by getting on the lease so they can be empowered to interact and negotiate with their landlord as well as their housemates.
How will this help families?
Currently, a group of four or five unrelated people who would otherwise choose to share a single home in Boulder are forced to split up into at least two homes, further limiting the housing options available to everyone, including families.
Limited housing options have contributed to Boulder’s stagnating population and declining school enrollment in recent years. Not all families are legally allowed to live together due to Boulder’s occupancy limits, which are based on socially conservative notions of what constitutes a “family” and intentionally prohibit specific individuals from legally creating their own chosen living arrangements within private homes.
Those who stand to lose the most—including housing-insecure families and seniors—are the least likely to be willing to risk eviction or fines for violating Boulder’s occupancy limits, so these people have even fewer housing options and are often forced to seek housing outside of Boulder.
Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) endorses the Bedrooms Are For People ballot measure 300 because: “When families lose their homes, the most common solution is to ‘double up’ with another family in a home; 54% of registered homeless children in the United States are living in this kind of housing arrangement. In Boulder’s high-cost housing environment, where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $2,100, the ability to double up with another family is critical to preventing local family homelessness.”
Out Boulder County also endorses Bedrooms Are For People because they “believe this change in city occupancy regulations will be an important step toward a more inclusive, equitable and livable Boulder and will make a positive difference for the LGBTQ+ individuals and families who live and work here.”
Finally, allowing younger adults to share housing in Boulder supports the formation of families, since these same people who are currently leaving Boulder could instead be allowed to continue to live here in the years before they choose to have children in Boulder.